Mobile America: How Different Audiences Tap Mobile News

Knight Foundation
· 8 min read

Part 2


Millennials loom large in mobile usage (85 percent have a smartphone), but data on how news is accessed (and by whom) paint a more complex and evolving demographic picture.

Demographic shifts (by age, race/ethnicity and income) and changing behaviors in mobile news usage could have profound implications for both legacy and upstart news providers. In the mobile era, the reality may be that news organizations must have astute targeting and audience development, as well as flexibility with digital strategy.

Over the past decade, news organizations have been managing a sea change in the way news is consumed and delivered. In just the past two years, individual mobile news consumption has grown rapidly. In fact, 89 percent of the adult U.S. mobile population (144 million users) now access news and information via their mobile devices. As news organizations look to manage this digital transformation, engage with a changing audience base, and stay competitive, what should they understand about how different audiences approach access to mobile news and information?

This second installment of Knight’s two-part series on mobile news usage takes a deeper dive into specific demographics and different mobile platforms. Highlights from the custom research study conducted with Nielsen show that:

  • The mobile news user base as a whole reflects the current U.S. population with all its racial, ethnic and economic diversity.
  • The younger generations of mobile news users are actively consuming news, but in a different way; they tend to find news through social media and emerging chat apps.
  • An increasingly diverse mobile news user base offers glimpses of the future news audience.
  • The information and reference site Wikipedia is linked to news behavior and is a critical pathway to the news and information ecosystem.

Who’s active on mobile news

The audience for mobile news is more diverse than at first glance.

The emerging demographic variations among social networking news users certainly offer a glimpse into the future audience for news.17 While the entire EMM panel provides an overarching demographic snapshot of the mobile news audience, part one of this mobile research showed that much of mobile news time is happening within social networks.

These survey data also hint at the distinct behaviors emerging among various demographics and how they engage with mobile news. For instance, African-Americans actively engage on certain social media platforms. They are more likely to “like” tweets on Twitter and forward posts with commentary on Instagram (see Figure 1).

Moreover, other mobile research conducted by Nielsen indicates that Hispanics are intensive smartphone users spending on average more than 14 hours a week for app, audio, video and web purposes. Given that projections suggest that this demographic will account for more than half of the U.S. population growth in less than five years, understanding evolving behavior among this large and diverse demographic could help news content providers develop and target relevant audiences.

The metered data show that mobile news-seekers are also roughly evenly split between men and women but begin to diverge when looking at social apps for news. With the exception of LinkedIn, women were more likely than their male counterparts to seek news across the five social networking platforms studied (see Figure 2).


The pathways — and who’s coming — to news content are varied and evolving.

Nielsen metered data reveal that search, email and social networking sites are launching pads for news-seeking activity in both apps and mobile sites.

Email newsletters that drive audience to news content are often not appreciated as much as social networks, but they are worth highlighting (see Figure 3). It seems that news-seekers still value curated content that lasts longer than a feed and that they have chosen to opt into. The challenge for publishers in the mobile age is to be nimble not just in one channel but several.

Information and reference sites are linked to news behavior and often drive traffic to news content. Wikipedia figures prominently in mobile content access. Among mobile sites, Wikipedia reigns in terms of popularity (the app does well too) and amount of time users spend on the entity. Wikipedia’s site reaches almost one-third of the total mobile population each month (see Figure 6). Current news and events are often embedded within Wikipedia entries so it presents an opportunity to learn about an area of interest after reading a news article. What is clear from the Nielsen data is that the popular information site also drives traffic to news. For instance, Wikipedia was one of the top 10 websites visited prior to exploring sites as varied as BuzzFeed, Daily MailOnline,,, and Tribune Newspapers.

Younger and diverse audiences highlight changing news behaviors on mobile. News-seekers coming from social sites and chat apps such as Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts, Instagram and Pinterest tend to be younger and more ethnically diverse. YouTube referrals also play prominently among young millennials (ages 18–24). Conversely, mobile apps such as ESPN, Yahoo Stocks and tend to bring in an older (ages 35+) and more affluent audience.

The referral analysis also highlighted some notable players among younger and diverse audiences. Among mobile sites, BuzzFeed and Reddit dominate in bringing in young millennials to other mobile news sites. Those sites, in addition to CNN and Facebook, are also more likely to lead diverse audiences such as Asians and Hispanics to other mobile news content. For example, figures 4 and 5 highlight the audience profile of BuzzFeed and Facebook as referral sources to other news sites — with higher concentrations of referrals coming from both younger and older millennials (ages 18–34) and Asians, Hispanics and Other Races highly represented.

Where they come from and who they are:

Young millennials (ages 18–24) are 3 and 4x more likely than typical online adults to go to news content from Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat.

African-Americans are 2.5x more likely than typical online adults to go to news content from Twitter.

Reddit users are also going deeper into the content. Reddit devotees go to the app often (twice a day) and spend roughly five times the amount of time with Reddit’s app than other top news apps. The popularity of this discussion forum and news aggregator app among younger audiences may suggest a tendency toward accessing multiple news source perspectives but also a desire for news that is personalized to their interests. Publishers of all sizes are reckoning with news aggregations’ impact — whether through social media platforms or news apps — on their traditional distribution channels and related revenue models.


Part two of this series provides a snapshot of the evolving mobile news audience, as well as the behaviors on different social media platforms. Mobile pathways to news content can help news organizations better understand the changing demographics of those news consumers, as well as the impact to discourse that these demographic forces may entail. Overall, the data show that a fundamental shift has happened toward accessing news via mobile — and that the landscape continues to evolve. Adapting to and leveraging the opportunities in these audience trends in news behavior remains critical to any news organization’s survival.

To read the full report based on a research study conducted with Nielsen and commissioned by Knight Foundation to explore how people use mobile platforms for news, visit: Mobile-First News: How People Use Smartphones to Access Information


Behavioral Insights Methodology

Nielsen’s Electronic Mobile Measurement 3.0 is an observational, user-centric approach that uses passive metering technology on smartphones to track device and application usage on an opt-in convenience panel. At present there are approximately 9,000 panelists in the U.S. across both iOS and Android smartphone devices. Because the behavior is being tracked without interruption, this method provides a holistic view on all the activity on a smartphone.

A number of steps are taken after the data collection process to ensure that the reported data are representative of the adult mobile population. Weighting controls are applied across five characteristics (gender, age, income, race and ethnicity), while independent enumeration studies are carried out on a continuous basis to provide the most current estimate of the mobile population (aka Universe Estimation). Recruitment is conducted in English.

Survey Insights Methodology

Nielsen Electronic Mobile Measurement (EMM) Panel collects smartphone and tablet users’ behavioral data of application (app) and website usage.

  • A 5-minute online survey, regarding news-seeking behaviors within social networking apps, was conducted among social networking users of EMM Panel in October 2015.
  • The sample of mobile social networking users, including 2176 respondents, was weighted based on EMM Panel’s Q3 2015 benchmark data of smartphone31 social networking users. Weighting variables include age, gender, income and education.*
  • Among the sample of mobile social networking users, 1078 respondents were identified as those who consume news within top five social networking apps (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram and LinkedIn).
  • To facilitate a better recall, all behavior questions in this survey were asked based on the most recent 30-day time frame.
  • “News” was defined for the survey participants as “current events happening somewhere, which could include a range of topics, such as world, U.S., technology, sports, entertainment, etc.”

*Note: The survey was conducted online, in English, and weighted on age, gender and education. While we can look at attitudinal and behavioral variations among racial/ethnic groups, the data are not necessarily representative of these groups, as it was not weighted using these variables.

Key Terms in the Study

Active Reach (%): Percentage of all active eligible people on smartphones who visited the entities in News Category, calculated as such: Unique Audience on smartphones for News Category in the reporting period / Total Unique Audience in the Mobile Universe (smartphones) in that reporting period

Audience: Total number of unique persons who visited the entity (app or site) in the news category on smartphones at least once in the specified reporting period and within the U.S.

Minutes: Total time spent on entities in the news category in minutes.

News and Information Category: Apps/sites that specifically focus on news and/or resources to find very specific information points.

News and Information Subcategories:

  • Current Events and Global News: Apps/sites that provide information about local, national, and/or world news.
  • Directories and Local Guides: Apps/sites that provide information, products and/or services on directional information about a local area such as local dining.
  • Multicategory News and Information: Apps/sites that contain multiple (two or more) news and information subcategories.
  • Multicategory News and Information: Apps/sites
    that contain information specifically focused on
    one topic.
  • Weather: Apps/sites that provide information, products and/or services on weather forecasts.

Mobile-First News: How People Use Smartphones to Access Information

This report is based on a research study conducted with Nielsen and commissioned by Knight Foundation to explore how people use mobile platforms for news.

Knight Foundation

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Mobile-First News: How People Use Smartphones to Access Information

This report is based on a research study conducted with Nielsen and commissioned by Knight Foundation to explore how people use mobile platforms for news.